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Eastern Oregon outscores Raiders in opener

ASHLAND — In a Cascade Conference playoff game that featured several dramatic swings of momentum, the last one belonged to the gritty Eastern Oregon Mountaineers.

Jorden Gerlach drew a bases-loaded walk in the fifth inning to force in what turned out to be the winning run and Eastern Oregon’s Hailey Kline held Southern Oregon to one run over the last three innings as the Mountaineers survived SOU’s seven-run rally to knock the 20th-ranked Raiders into the loser’s bracket of the Cascade Conference softball tournament with a 12-11 victory Friday at University Field.

The CCC regular-season champion Raiders now must take the long road to Sunday’s final starting at 9 a.m. today against Oregon Tech, which was also upset Friday, 3-2, by Great Falls. The winner between SOU and OIT will face the Corban-Carroll winner at 4:30 p.m. in another loser-out game.

“We’ve had some tough losses this year and I think they’ve bounced back really well,” SOU coach Jessica Pistole said. “They’re a fighting team, a tough team, and they’ve been through a lot this year. I think we’ll be ready to go tomorrow.”

Eastern Oregon (27-21), which began the day with a 7-1, nine-inning win over Corban, will face Great Falls today at 2 p.m. with a spot in the league tourney final and an automatic berth to the national tournament on the line.

The Raiders (34-15) were down in the dumps Friday after Eastern Oregon jumped all over SOU starting pitcher Sydney White to take a 10-3 lead into the fourth. The game turned in a hurry, however, as a two-out fielding error by Eastern second-baseman Maryssa Santi extended the inning, led to another error on the same play that allowed two Raiders to score and paved the way for a seven-run eruption by SOU that tied the score at 10-10.

Tyler Burke’s two-run double into the left-center field gap knotted the score and brought the Raiders within a hit of taking the lead, but Amelia Hensler flied out to center to end the rally.

“To come back from deficits all game long in different innings and answering back, I think that shows a lot about our fight at the plate,” Pistole said. “I think we gotta keep the ball lower and we gotta lessen the hits that they’re getting.”

Eastern reclaimed the lead in the bottom of the inning on Cheyenne Barker’s RBI single, and added an insurance run in the fifth when White missed inside on a full-count, bases-loaded pitch to Gerlach. Barker was 3-for-5 with a double and three RBIs.

The Raiders cut the deficit to one when Kelsey Randall slid home safely on Kayleen Smith’s sacrifice fly in the sixth, barely avoiding the tag by EOU catcher Alex Shuster. In the seventh, SOU pinch hitter Aaliyah Oliver beat out a pinch-hit single with two outs, but Kline got Nicole Cardoza to pop up an 0-1 pitch to shortstop to clinch it.

Abigail Lund, Rebecca Velasquez and Burke had two hits apiece for the Raiders, and Lund and Burke also drove in a pair. Both of Burke’s hits were doubles.

Barker, Marisa Gonzalez, Shelby Baertsch and Santi had three hits apiece for the Mountaineers, who tallied 18 hits as a team, including five for extra bases. Baertsch was 3-for-5 with two doubles and three RBIs.

White tossed a combined 3 1/3 innings, giving up eight runs, seven earned, on seven hits. She was pulled with one out in the second having already surrendered six runs, then reentered with the bases loaded and nobody out in the sixth. White kept the Raiders in the game after the bases-loaded walk by inducing back-to-back groundouts followed by a routine grounder to short.

SOU’s Victoria Mackey allowed four runs on 11 hits in 2 2/3 innings.

“The defense was pretty strong,” Pistole said. “We can’t defend balls that they’re hitting hard and well in the gaps. I think we just need to get a little bit tougher from the pitching standpoint and be able to just stop their bats a little bit more. (Eastern Oregon) came out swinging.”

For Eastern, starter Haylie Van Laethem allowed seven runs, four earned, in 3 2/3 innings before Kline took over in the fourth.

Southern Oregon University senior Alexa Gonzalez rounds second base, past Eastern Oregon infielder Maryssa Santi, at University Field on Friday. Eastern Oregon won, 12-11. PHOTO BY LARRY STAUTH JR.